The Thanksgiving holidays are always sentimental and sobering.
Our national symbol, the turkey, is a reminder that a relaxed meal is the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving celebration. Statistics confirm that 88% of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving — over 46 million on the November holiday.
Go to any grocery store this time of the year, and it appears that turkeys will never run out. This was not the case in years gone by, to the extent that we almost saw turkeys become extinct. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, it has been estimated that there were more than 10 million wild turkeys in what is now the continental United States.
When we get around to offering thanks next week, we should be thankful that the turkey, like the buffalo, escaped extinction — but also, like the buffalo, barely.
With open season on turkeys year round and no bag limits, our nation saw the turkeys dwindle down to a couple hundred thousand by the 1920s, according to my Internet fact-finding objective.
If you can believe it, there actually was something serendipitous about the stock market crash in 1929. With the subsequent Depression, a lot of rural residents, mostly small farmers, had little or nothing to take to market. In addition, they had no jobs.
Desperate, they abandoned the farms and moved to the city. The areas they abandoned then reverted to native habitat where turkeys started to regain a toehold. Then they flourished and are now a dominant member of the wildlife society.
It is fun to turkey hunt. Turkeys are wily and hard to catch off guard. The slightest noise or movement will make them bolt posthaste. I would bet that no turkey hunter anywhere could boast that he, or she, never missed a shot.
One of my favorite turkey hunters is State Supreme Court Justice John Ellington, who has four great loves — his wife Sandra Kate, Georgia football, the judicial system and turkey hunting. He and Sandra Kate treat March with the same anticipation that basketball aficionados treat March Madness.
As he says with a smile as wide as Interstate 16, near his home in Tarrytown: “I call ‘em up and Sandra Kate calls ‘em home.” Isn’t it something special when a country boy rises to a position of prominence and maintains a love for the outdoors — one who never loses his down home vernacular and his rampant affection for the fields and woods.
Already there is a note on my 2021 calendar to call the judge and schedule a turkey hunt to observe him and Sandra Kate matching wits with a cagey tom, which gobbles confidently in the gloaming as daybreak slips in as stealthily as he does himself. The tom will be looking for a hen and romance, and I will be looking for an opportunity to bring a bounty to my freezer. Turkey from the wild is better than a store bought tom — anytime.
You may be up on American history, which makes you aware that Ben Franklin thought that the image of a turkey was more worthy to appear on the seal of the United States than the bald eagle.
There are many milestones and common sense in the life of Ben Franklin to appreciate, but I am greatly pleased that Congress did not listen to him. The bald eagle has a regal look. While I admire the cunning and instincts of the turkey, the bald eagle was the better choice.
Historians say that Franklin never really proposed a turkey for the seal, but advanced the suggestion of “an image of, Moses standing on the shore, and extending his hand over the sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm pharaoh who is sitting in an open chariot” along with the motto, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” Congress, thankfully, tabled Ben’s concept.
Franklin did note in a letter to his daughter, Sarah, his feelings as to the negatives of the bald eagle and the positives of the turkey. “For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country,” Ben wrote. Franklin argued that the eagle was a bird of “bad moral character” that “does not get his living honestly because he steals food from the fishing hawk and is too lazy to fish for himself.”
The Founding Father thought that the turkey a much more respectable bird and that the eagle was a “rank coward.”
I’m glad Franklin lost out with regard to our national bird. One thing is for certain, there would not be enough bald eagles at Thanksgiving to feed millions of Americans. Can you imagine a bald eagle sandwich with or without cranberry sauce?